Most No Limit Holdem hands with any value fall into a specific hand grouping. Hands generally derive their power from either their ability to win a showdown unimproved, the ease at which they can produce strong hands like top pair strong kicker, or their ability to occasionally flop monster hands (straights or flushes) or draws to monster hands. KQs is a hand that holds a rather ambiguous quality, in that it has enough “hi card power” to easily improve to top pair with a strong kicker, and it also has a reasonable chance of flopping the kind of monster hand or draw that you would be playing for with a hand like 98s. It is exactly the “dualistic” nature of the hand that causes it to be played in such a dissimilar manner by many equally talented players.
Let’s look at the two main categories of hands that you will be playing in No Limit Holdem poker: premium hands and speculative hands. Premium hands such as KK, AK, AQs and the like play best against one or two callers. They are likely to improve to or maintain their status as the best hand after the flop. These hands call for pre-flop raises that are designed mainly to limit the playing field and charge lesser hands to draw against them. The other types of playable hands, speculative hands, are more profitable in multi-player pots and favor calls to raises before the flop. With speculative poker hands, you would like to see a relatively cheap flop and wait until your hand is more defined before you decide how to proceed. KQs is a strong favorite against one random hand and fares well against one caller. However, if many players enter an unraised pot, the hand can morph into a strong drawing hand. You might elect to open with a raise in middle position before the flop with KQs, or you may decide to limp in with the hand after a few players call the big blind in front of you. Although I consider KQs a mediocre poker hand, it is certainly an interesting one. I am rarely disappointed to see it when I peek into my hand from middle or late position.
How to Play KQs
The manner in which you will play KQs is very dependent on your position at the table and the action that has taken place in front of you. If you are in early position you should not be eager to play with KQs. You may limp in with it occasionally from up front at a passive table. On very rare occasions you may even elect to raise with KQs from under the gun. That is only to vary your play, and only if you are playing against a lot of tight players and you have a very tight table image. Fundamentally, though, our default option is to fold with KQs in early position, limp with it in middle position, and open with it in late position. You won’t hear me talk in similar terms about many other hand in the game. I do play medium pocket pairs in a similar method, but describing how to play those hands is another article. I want to explain the situations in which we would like to find ourselves with this hand so you can better understand my philosophy on it.
1) Many limpers and no raisers. We don’t mind playing KQs in this situation because of its ability to flop high flushes and flush draws, and its ability to flop straights and straight draws. When you do flop a straight or straight draw, the straight will often be the nut straight.
2) One caller after you raise. Depending on the style of your caller and your respective positions relative to the dealer button, you have a good chance of having the best hand against one lone caller. The good thing about this situation is that when you flop the K or Q as top pair, you will have a pretty good kicker to go with it. It will also be very likely that your hand is the best hand if you do pair the high card on the flop. Not only is it true that top pair with second kicker is a good hand, it is also likely that your opponent would have re-raised with AK before the flop.
I think it might be wise to use some hand examples to illustrate the “variable sensitivity” of this hand.
Playing KQs: Example #1
You are playing a No Limit Holdem cash game with one and two dollar blinds. You have the button at a table of eight. All eight players have $200 dollars in front of them (for simplicity’s sake). The player under gun limps in, as do two other players from middle position. You look down to find the king and the queen of hearts. What’s your play?
A) Just call
I think you should go with A – just call in this spot and hope to make a big hand on the flop.
You call, the small blind completes, and the big blind checks. The flop comes out 5h 9h Ad. All five players check to you. How do you play it?
A) Bet out, about half the size of the pot
B) Check, it’s free
C) Move all-in as a semi-bluff
I see players move-in here a lot, and I think it’s ridiculous. You could have obtained the same effect by making a pot-sized bet without risking all of your chips. I also think that many players would just go ahead and throw out a medium sized bet of about half the pot, figuring that they might win the pot now, and if they do get called they could still hit the flush on one of the following streets. I think that’s a bad play. Why take a chance of being raised off of a pot that you have a decent chance of winning? I think you should just pick answer B) – go ahead and take your free card. Someone’s bound to have the ace with all these players in the hand. We don’t want to be put to a difficult decision.
Now, the turn brings the Ah. You just made a very strong flush, the best possible flush. You don’t have the nuts, though, because someone could have had two pair and just made a boat. That’s a chance you’ll just have to take. The player first to act, recognizing that was a very scary card, goes all-in. You call him, and his set of aces is beat by your flush. You just doubled up.
Playing KQs: Example #2
1) You are at the final table of a tournament. The blinds are 100-200 and you all have around 5000 chips. Everyone folds to the button, who raises 600 chips to you in the small blind. You call and the big blind folds. The flop comes Ks Js 5d. You’re first to act. What’s your move?
C) Move all-in
While I don’t think that you want to let your opponent have a free card with the possible draws on the table, I also don’t think that you should bet so much that you blow him off the hand if he has a weaker hand. I would bet enough to make it a mistake for him to call on a draw, say about 2/3 the size of the pot. You bet; he folds.
Hopefully you’re starting to see what a versatile hand KQs really is. It plays good in many different situations. The implied odds from possibly catching a monster make it an effective hand against a lot of limpers with big stacks and relatively small blinds. The two high cards make it play sort of like a “de-clawed” Big Slick against one or two callers. Until next time, Good “luck!”